The ILO was created in the aftermath of the First World War, in 1919, to bring about Social Justice in the world. Indeed, the ILO Constitution states that “whereas conditions of labour exist involving such injustice, hardship and privation to large numbers of people as to produce unrest so great that the peace and harmony of the world are imperilled”, there is a need to regulate conditions of work at the international level.
Moreover, “lasting peace can be established only if it is based on social justice”, and “poverty anywhere constitutes a danger to prosperity everywhere”. Thus, International Labour Standards are adopted, amongst others, to ensure a level playing field to avoid the temptation of social dumping whereby rights at work are lowered at the expense of workers in the belief that a greater comparative advantage will ensue in international trade.
In the current context of globalisation, accompanied by enterprise closures and ensuing unemployment worldwide, further compounded by both the current food crisis – shortage, increased prices -, and of the financial and economic crisis – ILS have thus a particularly critical role to play. Indeed, “labour is not a commodity” whose price can be negotiated to the detriment of workers freedom, safety and dignity.
Adopted under the form of legally binding Conventions and non-binding Recommendations, ILS cover a wide number of fields, ranging from working time, migrant workers to employment security, for instance. Of the 188 adopted Conventions (in 2008), eight Conventions are considered of particular importance and are encompassed by the 1998 Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights. These concern the following four areas, for which a wide ratification campaign has been undertaken with a view to universal ratification:
- Eradication of Child Labour;
- Abolition of Forced Labour;
- Promotion of Freedom of Association and Collective Bargaining;
- Equality at Work.
A large number of countries covered by the SRO for East Africa have ratified all eight Conventions.
Implementation of ILS and Assistance provided by the SRO
Through ratifying a Convention, a country undertakes to implement it at national level, for which purpose several mechanisms have been foreseen by the ILO. First, the government has an obligation to report under ratified Conventions (Article 22 of the ILO Constitution) to the ILO Supervisory Body, the Committee of Experts on the Application of Conventions and Recommendations which will issue its comments on how the country is implementing its obligations.
To assist the country to fulfil its reporting obligations, the SRO has organised several activities, such as a one week workshop intended to the tripartite constituents, as well as to other relevant concerned Ministries and the National Human Rights Commission. Such workshops were organised in Comoros, Djibouti and Uganda, upon request by these countries. Moreover, the SRO has each year recommended one candidate to undergo a two-week training in Turin on ILS, in order to facilitate reporting once back in the country.
A second ILO Supervisory body is the Freedom of Association Committee which was set up for the purpose of examining concrete cases of complaints submitted by the social partners, alleging breach of ILO core Conventions Nos. 87 on Freedom of Association and 98 on Collective Bargaining. The SRO has in several instances provided guidance regarding the ILO procedures to follow in cases where trade unions, mainly, were considering to lodge a complaint.
Abiding by ratified Conventions further entails the harmonisation of national legislation with these Conventions. For this purpose, the SRO, in collaboration with Headquarters, has provided technical advice on how to make national legislation consistent with international labour standards.
Examples include a review of national legislation to ensure equal opportunities at the workplace for women in Mauritius, advice on how to render envisaged new legislation on private employment agencies in line with ILO Convention No. 181 on same topic in Ethiopia, as well as commenting studies analysing the national legal framework in Ghana and Nigeria to tackle labour trafficking in light of existing international Conventions, particularly the ILO Conventions of relevance.
Another important means through which ILS can be implemented, is the Judiciary as Courts can play an important role in applying ILS through integrating them into national judicial labour decisions. For this purpose, the SRO, in collaboration with the Turin Training Centre, has specifically targeted the Judiciary in a number of activities to train judges on ILS, mainly in Ethiopia, Madagascar, Tanzania.
ILS and Technical Cooperation Projects
The SRO ensures that International Labour Standards are part of technical cooperation projects, and notably within Decent Work Country Programmes (DCWP). Thus, in close consultation with the tripartite constituents, the SRO has elaborated specific priorities to promote ILS within the DWCPs elaborated respectively for Djibouti, Ethiopia, Comoros and Madagascar.
The SRO further provides for inputs within existing technical cooperation projects, such as the Dutch TC-ram in Ethiopia, through training workshops on Standards intended to the constituents. Finally, the SRO organises, upon request, workshops and undertakes studies on specific ILS, such as two studies related to trafficking of Ethiopian women domestic workers overseas.